Text: Matthew 18:1-14 (NIV)
Cherish is the word I use to describe … I will pause here while you 60’s folks play back the Association’s song in your head. Cherish is the word I use to describe the action called for in this text. Why cherish? Well, one obvious reason is that it sounds good with children! ”Cherish the Children” makes a good sounding theme. But it’s also a good action word to associate with children. The word the KJV translates as “cherish” is only found twice in the New Testament. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7, “But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for [cherishing] her little children” (NIV), and in Ephesians 5:29 where husbands are exhorted to “cherish” their wives. Cherish comes from a word meaning “to keep warm.” Picture the mother wrapping in a towel that teeth-chattering child who just steps out of the backyard pool or the husband who puts his arm around his shivering wife at the ball game. There you have a picture of “cherish.” ”Cherish the Children” is to care for them and love them in a very close, warm, and protecting way. So “cherish” is the word I use to describe the action called for in this text. It’s pretty easy to understand even if you don’t know the 60’s song by the Association!
But who is it we are to cherish? Who are we to love and hold and protect? Who are the children? In the ancient world to which Jesus was speaking, children were not seen as we often see them or think of them. They were not viewed as role models of innocence or of humble service to others. As one scholar put it, “The general judgment is in the main negative. The child is without understanding and self-willed. It inclines to naughtiness and needs sharp divine and human discipline.” (As quoted in the Concordia Journal, January 2003 page 8.) In the Concordia Journal article where this is quoted, authors Jeffrey Gibbs and Jeffrey Kloha write, “It is hard to imagine a first-century thinker stating, ‘All I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten.’” A child is pictured as being unwise, unable, unequipped, and completely dependent on the action of others to survive and thrive. A child is anyone who is vulnerable and in need. A child is anyone who needs to be cherished. A child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
So once again we ask, “Who are the children? Who is to be cherished?” First of all, you and I need to realize God cherished us. God saw that because of our sinful nature we were unwise, unable, unequipped, and completely dependent upon Him for our salvation. So God wrapped us in the warm robe of His righteousness, a robe purchased when Jesus took the cold darkness of our sin upon Himself on the cross. His resurrection assures us that we have a living Savior who comes to us now through His Word and in a very personal way through holy Baptism and the holy meal of His body and blood. Our starting place for cherishing the children is really knowing how much we have been cherished by our living Savior.
Now this living Savior works in us through His Spirit to be His hands and feet to cherish other children, those vulnerable and in need. On this Sanctity of Human Life Sunday we think of examples related to life issues. What do we see when we look at those not yet born: The “product of conception”? A “mistake”? ”Unwanted”? A source of stem cells? Jesus sees “children” completely dependent upon others. We are to cherish them, welcome them, defend and speak up for them. Of course, anyone can do that. But you are not just anyone! You are children cherished by the Father! You can be for these children and bring to these children Jesus. He gives them value through the price He paid for their redemption. He gives value to these children because the process for that redemption began when He took their place from the very beginning of life in the fallopian tube and womb of Mary.
What do we see when we look at the frightened and despairing pregnant teen or others in a crisis pregnancy: Someone promiscuous? Someone who brings shame to the family? A statistic? Jesus sees a “child,” someone desperately in need of others for advice and direction. We are to cherish her, welcome her, do whatever is necessary so that what is best for mother, child, and father is accomplished. Of course anyone can do that. But you are not just anyone! You are children cherished by the Father! You can bring to these “children” and be for these “children” Jesus who forgives and promises His strength, and who calms fears as no one on earth can.
What do we see when we look at those filled with guilt and hopelessness following an abortion decision: Wicked? Murderers? Those of whom we say, “How could anyone do something like that?” Jesus sees a “child” someone crushed by the weight of her sin and unable to do anything about it. We are to cherish such children, welcome them, listen to them, and help them deal with this burden. Of course, anyone can do that. But you are not just anyone! You are children cherished by the Father! You can bring to these “children” and be for these “children” Jesus who was crushed for all iniquities and rose again to bring an absolute, objective, living and certain hope that we are loved in spite of our sin and never forsaken because of our sin.
What do we see when we look at people with severe disabilities, the desperately ill, those minimally conscious and even unconscious: A burden? People lacking quality of life? Someone of whom we say, “I wouldn’t be like that” or “She wouldn’t want to be like that”? Jesus sees a “child” as someone dependent upon others. We are to cherish such children, welcome them, care for them, and help carry their burdens. Of course, anyone can do that. But you are not just anyone! You are children cherished by the Father! You can bring to these “children” and be for these “children” Jesus who says, “There is no infirmity or disability that can separate you from my love. There is no circumstance where I am not at work. As long as I give life I give that life meaning and purpose and am exalted through it.”
Yes, these are the “children” we are to cherish, and you can cherish them in a way no one else on the planet can cherish them because of one simple, but profoundly simple, reason-Jesus Christ cherishes you. And that leads us to our final point. We know what this action word “cherish” is about. We know who the “children” are that we are to cherish. One question remains, “Why?” Why should we cherish the children? The Words of Jesus: ”And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” (5). ”See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of My Father in heaven” (10). We are to cherish the children because they are precious to God. I am going to repeat that to highlight its importance because it’s too easy to dismiss with a, “Of course, we know that.” We are to cherish the children, not just because they are precious-anyone can do that-but because they are precious to God. Understand the importance of that message for us as God’s people. Understand the uniqueness of that message for our culture.
We cherish the children because they are precious to God. That’s the essence of what our “For Life” message is all about. We are not “For Life” because it’s the politically advantageous thing to do, or because it is the economically logical thing to do or the socially smart thing to do. We are not “For Life” because it is the right thing to do or the ethical thing to do or the moral thing to do. We are “For Life” because it’s the “God thing” to do. We are “For Life” because God is. We are “For Life” because the children, especially those vulnerable and in need, are precious to Him. We are “For Life” because we are precious to Him. We have been given life and called to new life through Jesus Christ. He calls us to bring Him and to be Him to the children, for only He has the power to make a real and eternal difference in their lives.
Yes, we are “For Life” because God is. The children are precious to Him, the greatest to Him. Therefore, being “For Life” is not just the message of a group like Lutherans For Life. It’s not just another “nice thing” Christians should do if that’s their thing. Being “For Life” is the message of Scripture. Being “For Life” is an essential message that Christians are compelled to share. It is not a message tangent to the Gospel as a whole; it is a message that is part of the whole of the Gospel-about what God has done in Christ to bring eternal salvation to all who believe. To think otherwise risks a grave spiritual danger.
Cherishing the children is not a neutral position, one you can take or leave. For if to cherish the children, to welcome the children, is to welcome Jesus, then to not cherish the children, to reject the children through our silence or inactivity is to reject and not cherish Jesus. This would be a nice easy text to preach about welcoming and cherishing the children were it not for verses 6-10. Here Jesus uses very strong language toward those who do not cherish or welcome the children and who cause the children to stumble. Words of woe, words about millstones about the neck, drowning in the depths of the sea, severing hands and feet, gouging out eyes, and being cast into eternal fire. Now when you get home and your neighbor asks about the sermon, don’t reply, “Our pastor told us that if we are not pro-life, we will burn in Hell forever.” That’s not the message. There is certainly a warning here, but that’s not the message!
But this is-we have the greatest, most powerful and positive “For Life” message in the universe. It is a message “tailor made” for the “children,” those who say, “I can’t do this on my own, I am helpless and hopeless.” To exclude certain of the “children” from this message because their struggles also happen to be controversial or political is a great insult to the message and to the One who is the message, Jesus Christ. But to share this message and apply it to those dealing with life issues is to exalt Jesus Christ as the One who can make a difference and bring truth, help, and hope.
That’s the primary message you are to take with you today. The primary message is not that we need to start pregnancy centers. The primary message is not that we need to promote families and abstinence and adoption. The primary message is not that we are to care for those with broken bodies or those with broken hearts. The primary message is not that we are to cherish the children because they are precious. The primary message is that we are to cherish the children because they are precious to God. Everything else will flow from that. Amen.